If elbow room seems to be in short supply on Asheville’s roads and trails, just wait for expected climatic migration.
Asheville was recently named third in a list of the top 12 US cities most likely to receive an influx of residents due to climate migration by a sustainable real estate expert in conversation with USA TODAY.
The ever-increasing impacts of climate change, including warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, more powerful and destructive storms, will drive more people to flee coastal areas for places more resilient to climate change, such as North Carolina western.
Willingness to sign up for a 30-year mortgage can often depend on how well the property can be expected to stand the test of time, a test that has become increasingly difficult to pass due to the effects of climate change, according to USA TODAY.
The paper, which is owned by Citizen Times parent company Gannett, spoke with Jesse Keenan, an economist and associate professor of sustainable real estate at Tulane University, who explored a number of factors with a team of researchers to formulate the list of 12 cities.
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The communities on Keenans’ list were chosen for a combination of their geographies, economies, and the level of preparedness they’ve already undergone to prepare for ongoing climate challenges. Keenan spoke to the Citizen Times about a specific target they used the concept of push factors and pull factors.
Keenan said much more work has been done on push factors, the ones that cause residents to leave a city in search of something more optimal, even though the sets of factors go very closely together.
Some pull factors, Keenan said, weren’t necessarily considered directly related to climate change, although the end results of the moves were the same.
What did these various regions have, in terms of comparative climate, housing, accessibility, economic development, education system, inpatient healthcare, access you know, all things that actually play into regular decision making in the context of just the period of domestic migration and non-climatic terms.
In contrast, Keenan said the NC coast is to blame for many push factors. He said Asheville originally fell on his team’s radar as a destination for climate migrants as they followed the paths of people moving away from the North Carolina coast following severe damage from the 2017 hurricane season.
Some of that coastal movement originated because of the high cost of living on the coasts and some constraints on new construction and things that weren’t necessarily environmentally or climate-friendly, Keenan said.
But that movement has increased, and it has increased largely since the 2017 hurricane season. And interviews have suggested that there has definitely been some movement because of the cost of insurance, the cost of housing and other things that are incidental to what we believe would be a climate-driven phenomenon.
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Keenan said he has seen benefits in local economies from some of this migration. However, he has also seen what he calls climate gentrification.
In theory, Asheville could start to feel crowded much sooner than later, Keenan said.
Asheville was ranked number three on the list, behind No. 1 Duluth, Minnesota, and No. 2 Orlando, Florida.
“Blessing and Cursing”
Asheville has already grown rapidly. There was a population increase of about 13 percent between 2010 and 2020, from 83,000 people to about 94,000, according to the US Census.
The projected influx of climate-related travel into the area certainly has these economic benefits. Keenan said Asheville’s welcoming community and vibrant culture draw people in, which often helps add to that. However, he said the already busy city needs to invest in careful climate-friendly urban planning to keep that spirit intact.
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I think that Asheville’s cultural ability to have an open door is both a blessing and a curse, Keenan said. I think it’s a blessing in the sense that when people move, it builds social capital, it builds community connections, and it builds a stronger community. I think it’s also a bit of a curse in that it makes it a very attractive place. Culture adds a lot of value and economic value to the real estate market. Asheville has experienced much economic strain, significant housing costs, and limited land development.
Keenan said keeping the city viable was a huge piece of the puzzle, and one that many other cities have struggled with.
Historically, Asheville was a pretty compact place that was quite walkable in most neighborhoods. So, I think it’s a real challenge for planners, and really for the community, to decide for themselves how they want to grow.
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Anyone who has dealt with stopped traffic, noisy construction, or crowded sidewalks could have some idea of Asheville’s growth rate. Residents have very different feelings about this growth and the city government and associated organizations have attempted to address the issues of concern accordingly.
In 2018, the City of Asheville’s Department of Urban Planning and Design released a comprehensive plan that they described as a tool used to establish a high-level vision to guide citywide policy decisions over several years. The plan contains a 128-page section titled Planning for Climate Resilience that takes an in-depth look at what the city hopes to accomplish to create a sustainable future.
The paper explores what Asheville is doing right, any dangers or problem areas, and most importantly, looks forward to discussing what the next steps are in the city’s journey towards sustainability.
Some key points from the extensive document are summarized below courtesy of the Adaptation Clearinghouse.
- Strengthen urban transit corridors using smart growth principles
- Creating a green infrastructure network around transport corridors to address urban heat islands
- Protect sensitive lands and promote edible and native landscapes that improve water quality and reduce waste and energy consumption
- Promote resilient neighborhoods through the creation of places and greater community engagement, especially with minority communities
- Using nature to improve the management of open spaces and rainwater
- Improve equitable and upward mobility by addressing housing affordability and workforce development
Iris Seaton is the Citizen Times news service intern. Email her at [email protected].
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